Appropriate Treatment of Head Injuries by Surgeons During the Civil War
ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLL FORT LEAVENWORTH KS
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Surgeons during the Civil War have been classified by soldiers from that time period as incompetent butchers. However, evidence of head injury cases from the battles of Antietam, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, and Petersburg suggests that most surgeons were competent and followed the medical standards of practice of the 1860s. The civilian method of practicing medicine was similar to that of the military, although military surgeons found that procedures such as trephining met with more fatalities than their civilian counterparts. A possible reason for a high mortality rate with military trephining may be because the field environment in which the procedures were done was often dirty and many head wounds became infected. Other contributing factors could be that surgeries were undertaken on a large number of patients using the same unclean instruments. The small sample size of severe head injuries indicates that the survival rate was approximately 35 percent of those who survived until they arrived at a major hospital. Infection appears to have been the most significant factor in determining whether the patient would live or die. Overall, the surgeons of the Civil War were not butchers and they did the best they could given the technology and medical knowledge of the time.
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